Greeson: Atlanta Braves still have some positives to rely on

Greeson: Atlanta Braves still have some positives to rely on

March 25th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel reacts during a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Braves agreed to terms with Kimbrel on a four-year contract. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel reacts during a...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

It's less than a week from opening day for your Atlanta Braves.

Amid the Volunteers' run to the Cuonzo-coronating promised land of the Sweet 16 and the buzz of spring football practice and the gentle hum of the seasons changing, baseball has sneaked through the shadows of spring and the whispers of warmer locales.

So as the season moves quietly but quickly into view, what do we know about this bunch beyond the terrible injuries that the rotation has endured? The news from Braves spring training has been mixed.

Their record is terrible, but not unlike the college basketball regular season, it's meaningless. A 10-16 stretch in April is bad; a 10-16 stretch in Florida is not that big of a deal, even if you are the Marlins. In fact, 10-16 is a hot streak for the Marlins.

The Braves' bats have been better than expected, but that could be a big chunk of getting fat against guys with numbers in the mid-to-upper 70s with fastballs to match.

Their starting pitching has been decimated by injury, losing penciled-in No. 1 and No. 3 starters Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgeries. The news that Atlanta waived veteran starting pitcher Freddie Garcia on Sunday should be viewed with the optimistic positions that (a) young starters Alex Wood and David Hale have given the decision makers a feeling of calm and (b) the arrival of healing Mike Minor and adjusting Erwin Santana will be on schedule in the middle of next month.

So what do we make of this bunch a week before the season starts for real?

It's impossible to know, but here are three hunches:

Dan Uggla will get a very short leash. There have been multiple new names with the "2B" next to them in the box scores this spring, and for the most part the no-named cats have been better than expected. If Danny Struggla, who has been around a respectable .260 most of the spring, starts averaging 1.3 Ks a game, he'll be out of a job. Ramiro Pena has flourished with more chances, hitting .359 in 39 at-bats, and utility player Tyler Pastornicky looks to be a shoo-in to make the big-league club.

While the questions about the rotation are real and legitimate, the bullpen will be nasty. Guys such as Luis Avilan and David Carpenter have been aces, and we all know that Craig Kimbrel, who recently extended his deal with the club, is the best closer in the game.

But protecting that strength will be paramount. And that means there's a real chance the Braves will lose a few 15-4 games, especially early, but those losses will be acceptable as long as they do not include bullpen sacrifices that turn a strength into a question mark come July.

Freddie Freeman is going to have a very good year. Call it a hunch or call it an educated guess based on his start to the spring and his confidence and his place as "Da Man" in the locker room -- and the accompanying nine-figure contract extension -- but we believe he is going to be a .310-20-120 guy.

Freeman is hitting .375 this spring, a number that is among the tops in all of baseball. Yes, that number is somewhat inflated because of the opposition, but for the most part he and the starters see at least a few turns against other starting pitchers who will be opening-day starters.

And that's the beauty of spring -- predictions are possibilities and preposterous.

We'll know more in a week, and that's the joy of opening day.

Contact Jay Greeson at